From Norman Cay we continued south to Wardewick Wells with the breeze coming across the islands from the west on April Fool’s Day. The Exuma Sound was like a lake despite 20 knots of breeze. If the wind is from the east, sail the west side, if from the west, we sail on the eastern shore. We sailed right into the cut and into a little hole of an anchorage away from all of the other boats at Wardewick Wells. Once ashore Alex and I set out exploring the island together, going on a long walk to an old Loyalist plantation is the south.
People loyal to the government in the time leading up to the revolution in the United States were subject to terrorism and property confiscation by the revolutionaries. Many of them fled to the Bahamas to continue living their lives in a less tumultuous political environment. The Bahamas are covered with remains of their plantations. On the way there, we hiked up “Boo Boo Hill”. It is a place where cruisers find a piece of driftwood on which to carve their name and leave it as an indication we were there. Many are painted and quite beautiful, but we didn’t know about it until we were on our way up the hill and two women asked us if we had a sign. We didn’t and managed to find a soft piece of driftwood to carve with our knives at the top of the hill. The rest of the island was beautiful.
Trails made by the Bahamas National Trust, which manages the Exuma Land and Sea Park cris-cross the island through palm tree jungles. Along beaches and beaches. We spent the afternoon in borrowed kayaks, paddling lazily through the mooring field and waving to the retired folks in their big boats. They wave back, and I smile knowing they wonder how I got here. That evening there is a cocktail gathering on the beach and everyone wants to hear our story. They all understand it and universally agree they wish they had been here when they were our age.
On April 3rd we moved south to the Seaquarium between Soldier Cay and Halls Pond Cay. But we didn’t like where we had anchored, too close to the rocks. When I tried to start the engine, she wouldn’t turn over. We did a few quick diagnostics and found no spark. The breeze shifted and we needed to go before fixing the problem. We raised the sails and as I tried to steer away from the rocks, Alex found that we had fouled (gotten stuck on the bottom) our first anchor. We quickly made a plan and I jumped into the water with my mask and fins on, dove to the bottom and pulled the anchor out from under a coral head. While this happened Alex sailed out into the cove and I followed treading water and swimming with the anchor, dropped it in deeper water and climbed up the ladder as Al sailed by. Once anchored again, we changed out the spark plugs (duh!) and she sparked and fired right up.
The next two days are a hazy dream. Alex and I were both living on the same wavelength. We played loud music and danced and wore hilarious outfits. I went alone to the beach and enjoyed the sand and walking through the mangrove swamp, watched the concert of the sunset on the stage of time. I took a saltwater bath with joy soap and felt clean.
The following day, April 5th we sailed into Sampson Cay, outrunning a squall coming towards us. With summer approaching the afternoons bring massive, beautiful head clouds that bring with them fierce wind and rain for an hour or so. At Sampson we heard that they had a $2 Tuesday special. We thought to get a couple of beers and some wings. There were a few other people in the bar and Al and I got to talking. After an hour, I met a guy named Rick who sat next to me. It happened that he was the captain of Tigers Eye, a 100’ mega-yacht tied up at Sampson. He invited us for dinner that night, they were cooking steak aboard. He had invited a few other people, but the whole island showed up to join in the good times. Al and I left sometime after midnight after a soak in the hot tub with plans to go spear fishing with the first mate the next morning.
Jake, the mate picked us up in Tigers Eye’s tender the next morning and we headed out to just south of the Park to fish. It was a spectacular spot with caves and big ledges. We got an octopus and a couple of fish. When a couple of reef sharks started getting interested in our activities we got out of the water. That afternoon we hung out with Captain Rick and took showers on Tigers Eye. That night was the chef on the boat, DJ’s birthday and Rick had invited us to celebrate with them. That meant a spectacular five course meal at the restaurant and a night of revelry with the crews of a few other yachts in the harbor. One guy about our age, a crew on one of the mega yachts had been at the “String Cheese” concert we had attended in VA. We talked about the show and were happy to have met someone here on this little island who had shared another part of this journey.
After sleeping on Tigers Eye, we left the next morning for Staniel Cay. We anchored around the corner at Big Major’s spot and watched as the pigs that live on the island came out to greet boaters who brought rotten vegetables to feed them. We stayed on the boat, I painted and Al read my Peter Singer book, “How Are We to Live?” The following day we moved the boat closer to Staniel and met a former commercial fisherman from Edgartown, MA. We spoke with him for a long time about the mismanagement of coastal fisheries and agreed to go snorkel the Thunderball Grotto at low tide in the afternoon. It is a spectacular dome shaped cave with ten feet of water in the bottom filled with fish below the 20’ high ceiling through which sunlight shines through three holes in the limestone. Alex, Mike and I spent hours there, diving swim-throughs and narrow canyon like passages.
That evening we went ashore and saw a local band perform at Big Dogs. The crowd was about 1/3 tourists and the rest locals. Everyone was there to have a great time and listen to the band playing some real Bahamian music. There we met two more Bostonians, Rob and Drayton from Jamaica Plain is Boston. They were visiting for just a few days, and I tried to impart what goes on here and how to make the best of such a short stay.
The following day, Sunday, we set out for Black Point. It is one of the largest settlements in the Bahamas. Industrial tourism has not found its way here. Cruisers passing through benefit the community greatly. The locals are kind and happily greet and talk to me as I walk through the streets. Many people sit out in front of their homes making “plait” which is woven palm leaves that can be made into baskets or other woven palm goods. The island has a few churches, its own school, power plant, and a government clinic. I feel relaxed again here, more so than busy Staniel and Samson. Alex and I both seek to stay “out-here” away from places people can fly into, that have resorts and six dollar drinks. Loraine, who runs a small café, has been kind enough to let me sit and use the WIFI here. Her mother is doing our laundry, which hasn’t been washed in two months, courtesy of Clay and Rita who we met at Samson that gave us funds we couldn’t refuse to spend on doing laundry at Black Point.
Tomorrow we’ll continue meandering our way towards Georgetown for the regatta. It is a massive event in which every island in the Bahamas has the chance to enter a boat and compete. All of the boats are wooden and made on each island by local builders to very specific race standards. Today I saw one of these boats under construction, the shape of the ribs reminding me of building my wooden kayak in high school. On my walk today, I learned to plait, visited a sculpture garden made of driftwood and other flotsam. Last I walked in the government clinic and talked to Rose, the stern looking, white uniformed nurse that runs the clinic. She patiently answered my questions about the clinic and what services they have, how people pay and why do they come to the clinic. It was a simple, clean environment that has a doctor visit once a month. School children, the elderly and unemployed are given free care while others pay based on ability, the slack taken up by government subsidies.
Until next time, we go.